Choosing the best Printer Ink Cartridges

Guide to buying cheap ink cartridges

The cheapest cartridge you see in a shop may not produce the cheapest prints. The true cost depends on the amount of ink the printer uses to print a page and the price you pay for the cartridge.

Different cartridges contain different amounts of ink and produce a different number of printed pages so comparing cartridge prices in a shop won’t help.

To get a better idea of how ink costs compare from model to model we calculate running costs by working out how much ink is used to print text, graphics and photo pages.

Its important to check out the running costs for the printers you’re thinking of buying.

Shop around for cheaper ink cartridges

Retailer prices for the same cartridge can vary dramatically, so it’s important to shop around for ink – we’ve seen one retailer charging three times more than another for the same cartridge.

Online retailers offering free delivery are usually the cheapest, but it’s worth checking different retailers’ prices before you opt for one. Ive also found that the cheapest retailer one month may not be the cheapest a month later, so check cartridge prices at a few retailers every time you buy to ensure you get the best deal.

It’s also possible to find discounts or coupons, sites like DomainsCouponsPro often have 123inkjets coupons or a variety of other common ink cartridges. Or wait for things like Black Friday online deals. Some of these deals can save you a considerable amount of cash!

Mini and high-capacity cartridges

New printers generally come with a full set of cartridges but they may be starter or introductory cartridges. These contain less ink than standard cartridges and are capable of printing only a few pages before running out.

Check whether your printer is sold with these smaller capacity cartridges and if so, make sure you buy a set of full-sized cartridges when you’re shopping for your printer – you may even be able to negotiate a discount.

High-capacity (or XL) cartridges cost more than standard capacity cartridges but produce more prints, so they’re often cheaper in the long run. That said, if you find a retailer selling the standard capacity inks cheaply, these may prove better value – it depends on the price you pay for the cartridge.

XL inks are easier to find online than on the high street. Not all inkjet printers are compatible with them, so check they’re available for the printer you’re considering before you buy

Combined and single color cartridges

A combined color cartridge contains three inks – cyan, magenta and yellow – in one unit. When you run out of one color you need to replace the whole cartridge, even if there is ink for the other colours remaining.

This is a particular problem if you print a lot of one color. For example, if you’re photos contain large expanses of sky, you’ll use more cyan ink. You would have to replace the whole color cartridge when the cyan ran out, even if there was plenty of magenta and yellow left. In the long run, this can increase your printing costs.

Single-colour ink cartridges may seem more expensive, as you’ll have to buy three cartridges instead of one, but there’s less waste as you only need to replace the color that runs out. This may prove cheaper in the long run.

Separate single color cartridges tend to cost you less money in the long run

Photo cartridges

Some printers will take an extra cartridge known as photo black or photo color.

These cartridges are used only when you’re printing photographs and are meant to improve the quality of printouts.

A few entry-level printers don’t allow you to keep the photo cartridge loaded at all times. Instead, you’ll have to take out the standard color cartridge and replace it with the photo cartridge when you want to print photos. This is inconvenient and can also reduce the longevity of your cartridges as they can dry out more quickly when not stored safely in your printer.

Refill cartridges

Genuine ink cartridges produced by the manufacturer of your printer are the safest bet for consistent print quality. However, its tempting to try other third-party ink cartridges or refills with your printer to reduce costs as these are usually cheaper to buy.

I have used these re-fill kits before and found them quite messy and inconvenient to use. Some of the continuous Ink systems do work better but are just not worth the time and hastle and there quality of print outs can differ greatly.

Paper costs

Running cost figures only take into account ink, so you also need to consider factoring in the price of paper for your printer.

For manufacturer-branded photo paper, is often far more expensive per sheet than third party paper. Ive used branded and third party papers for print quality and water resistance.


Hidden extras

Paper and ink will make up most of your running costs, but there are occasions when you might have to fork out for additional parts.

A replacement print head for a printer could set you back up to around $50. You can reasonably expect the print head to last three years.

Not all printers have the print head in the printer, some have them on the cartridges – so every time you buy a new cartridge you get a new print head. However, cartridges with the print head incorporated tend to be more expensive, so it’s swings and roundabouts.

If you have a laser printer, the drum will have a limited life expectancy of around 20,000 pages – and will cost you over $100 to replace.

Although it’s not great for the environment, it’s often worth buying a new printer when your old one needs a replacement part. The cost of replacing the part can be offset against the price of a new printer, and sometimes it’ll actually be cheaper to buy a new one.

For information about recycling your old printer contact your local council.

Cheaper photo printing

It’s usually cheaper to get your photos printed at a high-street or online retailer than to print numerous photos on your home printer.

Online processors typically charge 10p or less per 6×4-inch photo and you could save even more by buying pre-paid credits – bear in mind you’ll have to pay for postage too.